Thursday, June 13, 2019

#049 Inside the Emotion of Fiction's TELL NO ONE by Barbara Taylor Sissel

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****Barbara Talor Sissel’s Tell No One is #49 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece.

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? Tell No One. First and only title, which is unusual.

Fiction genre? Ex science fiction, short story, fantasy novella, romance, drama, crime, plays, flash fiction, historical, comedy, movie script, screenplay, etc. And how many pages long? Domestic suspense/Family drama

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no. If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Lake Union Publishing, May 14, 2019

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I began work on it in the fall of 2017 and handed off the final edited version to my editor in the fall of 2018. I would say, though, that while a year passed between writing the opening pages and writing the end, that I was also doing final edits for the previous book, What Lies Below. I think it takes me roughly 9 months to write a novel, not including time spent living with the plot and waiting for characters to appear or vice versa.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?And please describe in detail. And can you please include a photo? As I worked on this novel I was living in my garage/office/potting-shed area and building my cottage, the Bee, at the same time. So I started out working in the garage and by the time I was into final edits, I had moved into the Bee and I begun to work in my office/potting shed. I hope the photograph makes it clear.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I work on a Mac. I’ve tried switching to my laptop but my habit with the Mac is so engrained the words just don’t seem to flow as well. I have made a habit of working first thing in the morning, aiming for four hours then exercise and lunch. Sometimes I come back in the afternoon if the words/story are pressing me to return to it. Otherwise I focus on marketing or something else. I bring a cup of black coffee with me when I start but that’s it. The only thing I listen to is a recording of the ocean. The sound plays in the background in an endless loop, and it contains subliminal messages of encouragement.
What is the summary of this specific fiction work? As children, Caroline and Harris never met, yet they called the same man father; both suffered when he abandoned them without a backward glance. Years later when Caroline is compelled by family circumstance to search for him, she soon uncovers clues that among other possibilities suggest her dad was involved in the cover-up of a high-stakes college football recruiting scam. In her growing fear that foul play was the cause of her father’s disappearance she’s driven to contact Harris, her father's protégé and favored stepson, the boy she’s hated from childhood. As a high school baseball coach with a beautiful wife and two sons, Harris appears to have the perfect life. But in fact he’s balanced on a high wire, struggling to hold onto a devastating secret that's slowly chewing him up from the inside. Little do he and Caroline know they're set on a collision course with the truth, or that once revealed, it will prove life shattering.     This is a story that questions our beliefs about justice and forgiveness and whether there is a point at which they cannot be reconciled.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? My journey with this story began with wondering how anyone deals with it when a family member vanishes. As I began to imagine the circumstances, the family dynamics came to life. Our parental relationships can be so difficult. As a child it’s hard to understand why our parents acted in the ways they did. As adults we might look for answers little knowing the chain of events we’re setting into motion can become explosive in a heartbeat.  

Please include the excerpt and include page numbers as reference. The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. For the excerpt, I’ve chosen the opening 7 pages that set up the mystery.
Caroline – Sunday, January 7
It was seeing the house that unhinged her. After all these years she hadn’t expected it would look so familiar, so endearing. Memories came, images, sights, the sound of old laughter unspooling across the surface of her mind, cinematic, painful in their beauty. She could nearly see her dad, football tucked under his arm, dodging, feinting a path toward the designated goal—the old thick-trunked Douglas fir was still there at the right edge of the broad expanse of lawn, brown now in the dead of winter.
On the flight up from Houston she had imagined a thousand scenarios, planned any number of speeches she might make. But now she doubted the wisdom of the impulse that had brought her. She ought to have called ahead, given some warning.
It’s a fool’s errand, Caroline, her mother’s voice whispered through her brain.
She rang the doorbell and her heart seized in unexpected delight when the opening notes of the Tillman State University fight song pealed and faded. If her dad were here, if she were still the little girl she’d been when they’d last come, he’d grin and tell her to do it again. And again. He’d be laughing when Coach Kelly opened the door. Coach had always acted as if he were annoyed, but then he’d lean out the door and push the button himself. He’d always had such mischief in his eyes.
She stiffened at the sound of steps approaching from the inside, becoming acutely aware of her mouth, dry as a bone, her heart fluttering, the smallest of bird wings. The door opened; a white-haired man peered out. His gaze, magnified by the lenses of his glasses, was cloudy, unsure.
She had thought herself prepared for the change in Coach Kelly that would be inevitable after more than thirty years. But this . . . no . . . He would be in his seventies now, but he looked much older and so frail, when in her memory he was huge, such a presence, a bear in her mind like her dad. It was everything she could do not to react; it took all she had to make herself smile. “Hi,” she said, and it was such a perky syllable. “You probably don’t remember me, but my dad and I used to come visit you a lot during football season back in the nineteen eighties. He was Garrett Hoffman, went by Hoff? I’m—”
“Caroline? Is it really you?”
“Yes.” She felt relieved and gratified that he seemed to remember her, but when he turned from her, calling out, “Jace, she’s here,” she was a bit dismayed. She hadn’t counted on anyone else being here, certainly not Coach Kelly’s son, whom she hadn’t seen since they were kids.
 “Caroline.” Jace greeted her smoothly, coming alongside his father. They were both tall, well built men. Coach Kelly was gaunt now, but Caroline could still see something of the cute guy in Jace’s grown up self. He still had a puckish look with his upturned nose and pointed jaw. He was taller than she remembered, and wider through the shoulders but still muscled, although age was softening him. He was like his dad, and her own: built to play football.
Coach Kelly widened the door. “My goodness, I didn’t believe Jace when he said you were on your way here.”
“How did you know?” she asked Jace.
“Alexa, the trainer you spoke to at Tillman State, called me.”
“Really?” Alexa hadn’t been at all forthcoming when she had spoken to the trainer a half hour ago in the athletic office at Tillman State University, yet she’d called Jace to alert him to Caroline’s presence? No wonder he’d beaten her here—it was sheer luck that Caroline had ultimately found the Kelly house. She’d known the neighborhood and the street, but not even providing those details had inspired the trainer to give Caroline the exact address. She’d said school policy prevented her from giving out personal information.
“Come on in here, young lady.” Coach Kelly widened the door. “Let me get a look at you.”
Caroline stepped inside the wide, paneled entry hall, reveling in the details of her surroundings that only moments before had been figments in her mind. There was the painting, an original Leroy Neiman, hanging over the marble-topped table on her left; the same narrow Persian runner in shades of blue, red and yellow was under her feet. Even the smell of wood burning, the fainter underscore of gas heat, was evocative of the past.
“Let me take your coat,” Coach Kelly said.
She slipped her arms out of her black wool blazer, feeling half in a daze.
He hung it inside the closet. He took her purse and laid it on the seat of the prettily carved French chair beside the entry table, and as he straightened he said it again, that he couldn’t believe it. “Little Caroline Hoffman all grown up and come to visit again after all these years.”
“It’s Corbett, Caroline Corbett now.” She tugged unnecessarily on the cuffs of her long-sleeved sweater.
“Well, of course. You’re married, a long time by now, I imagine. Do you have children?”
She started to answer. “A daughter, Nina—”
“Come into the library where it’s warm. I’ve got a fire going in there.” He led the way, down the hall.
Caroline followed him, and Jace fell in behind her. “Why are you here?” he asked her, and while his tone wasn’t quite hostile, neither was it welcoming. But possibly he was annoyed, rightfully so, that she hadn’t called first.
“I’m guessing this isn’t a social visit—”
“I’m sorry.” She shot Jace a glance over her shoulder. “It was rude of me not to let you know I was coming—”
“Don’t think twice about it,” the coach said. “We’re glad to see you, aren’t we, Jace?” He stood back, allowing her to enter the library first, and once she was inside the cozy book-lined room, she was immediately transported to the past. She could see her dad sitting in the old winged armchair, one of two pulled near the fireplace. She could hear his laughter, the resonant timbre of his voice … the memory of him was alive now here in this room, unsettling and hurtful. It made her ache.
She shouldn’t have waited so long to look for him.
What if he’d died? That very real possibility was the one that most worried and frightened her. But if he hadn’t, if he was living, how would her father greet her? With warmth like Coach Kelly? Or was he still angry with her as she had been all those years ago with him? Would she have to endure his rejection once more? Her heart fisted at the thought. It made her want to run for the door, forgetting the critical circumstances that had brought her. Turning to the fire, she stretched her hands toward it. She had always thought there would be time to put things right. She knew now that wasn’t true.
“When Jace told me you were coming, I got out an album of photos—”
“I doubt she came to look at old pictures,” Jace said.
Caroline shot a questioning glance at him.
“I’m concerned he’ll wear himself out,” Jace said, but Caroline sensed there was more to it, that he wanted her gone. Tension coiled heavily in her stomach.
“I’m not a child, Jace.” Coach Kelly picked up a leather-bound book that was probably close to three inches thick. “There are all kinds of pictures in here of you and your dad and Jace from when you were kids.”
Caroline hadn’t expected this, that they would sit down and visit, and from the tight look on Jace’s face, neither had he. But possibly he was only concerned for his dad. Coach Kelly did look almost feverish now with anticipation and a longing she recognized. Her mother could get the same expression. Out of the blue she might say: Do you remember when we. . . ? She had recently confessed that as she got older she experienced the odd moment when the past seemed more alive to her than the present. Sometimes, when her mom related some memory, Caroline detected notes of remorse in her tone, but she never pressed her to explain. The past was bad country, a half submerged battleground. Even Caroline didn’t know where all the landmines were buried.
“Pull that chair over,” Coach Kelly instructed.
She did as he asked, dragging the wing chair nearest to her closer to its mate, thinking he was probably lonely. Last she knew he’d been a widower, having lost his wife to cancer when Jace was seven. Caroline had shared that with Jace—the loss of a parent at a young age. Not in the same way. Neither of Caroline’s parents had died, but when she was five they had divorced. Her dad’s absence from her day-to-day life had felt irrevocable. Her mom had retreated then, too, into a cave of grief. In the aftermath Caroline had left bowls of cereal beside her mom’s bed. She’d learned not to ask when her daddy was coming home. Her saving grace then had been the weekends she’d spent with her dad at his sister’s, her beloved Aunt Lanie’s house. By Sunday, though, dread at having to return home to her mom would set in. Squatted on the porch steps after her dad dropped her off, watching him drive away, she’d whisper, Come back, come back, come back, as if his return—her family’s restoration to their once-upon-a-time life—were a matter of asking, or begging, or any words at all.
Coach Kelly turned the pages of the album, pointing out photos of various players he’d coached through the years. “I still hear from some of them,” he said. “You remember this guy, don’t you? Brick Coleman?”
“Sure do,” Caroline said. Brick was one of her dad’s most successful recruiting stories, one of the handful of his discoveries who’d gone on to play pro.
“Dad’s been ill.” Jace circled to the window and came back. “He tires easily—”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that—” Caroline began.
“I’m fine.” Coach Kelly shot Jace a hard glance. “I had a stroke a while back, and now Jace has turned into old Mother Hubbard.”  He shifted the photo album on his knees. “Brick lives here in town, did you know? His uncle does, too. The three of us still get together from time to time. They’re on TSU’s Board of Trustees.”
The coach went on. And on. Caroline uncrossed and recrossed her knees barely able to pay attention. Do you know where my dad is? Have you seen him? Where can I find him? The various ways to pose the question she’d come here to ask rattled through her brain, an endless cycle.
Coach Kelly turned another page. “Ah, look at this one,” he said tapping a photo that had been taken in the yard outside his front door. “Do you remember the year your dad brought you to homecoming? That mum, just look at the size.”
 “Do you ever hear from him? My dad?” She couldn’t hold her query inside a moment longer.

            “Do you know where he is?”

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. I work in Word so changes made are incorporated as I go. Suffice to say there were tons of deletions and many versions of this opening chapter.

Other works you have published? Tell No One is my 10th novel. Others are in chronological order beginning with the first: The Last Innocent Hour, The Ninth Step, The Volunteer, Evidence of Life, Safekeeping, Crooked Little Lies, Faultlines, The Truth We Bury, and What Lies Below.

Anything you would like to add? Yes, my thanks for this opportunity to chat about my work.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Barbara Taylor Sissel was raised in various locations across the Midwest and once lived on the grounds of a first offender prison facility, where her experience interacting with the inmates, their families and the people who worked with them, made a profound impression and provided her with a unique insight into the circumstances of the crimes that were committed and the often surprising ways the justice system moved to deal with them. 
An avid gardener, Barbara has two sons and lives on a farm in the Texas Hill Country, outside Austin. 



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